Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Understanding Japanese (Chris)

Being in Japan in two months has taught me that Japanese is difficult to learn. There are many things that could be a part of that issue, but the main thing is that there are people who speak in a different dialect then the dialect that I learn in the classroom. The dialect that people speak in my area is referred to as “kansai-ben” while the dialect that I learn is not just the generic Japanese, but the dialect that is most commonly used in Tokyo. 
Cartoonish statue of Hideyoshi and Onene at Kodaiji
This would seem to be a problem, but most of the time I do not notice the subtleties of kansai-ben. There is one phrase and one grammar point of kansai-ben that I have learned while here. The phrase is “めちゃ” or “mecha.” This word is just a way of saying “very” or “really” in English.  The grammar point that I learned is ~hen. It is as far as I know just the short-form negative (for those studying Japanese language) it replaces the conjugation ~ない in use.  I hear these phrased used every once in a while, but not often. I have heard from my friends that there are professors that will accidentally start speaking in kansai-ben and have to apologize, because most students do not know how to speak the dialect.

Dialect is used everywhere that I have experienced in the Kansai region. But, most of the time I hear the standard dialect when someone is talking to me. I have heard from my friends that there are professors that will accidentally start speaking in kansai-ben and have to apologize, because most students do not know how to speak the dialect. So, someone is speaking it. I have also heard it in passing sometimes. This could be a form of code speak, and kansai-ben is mostly used within the populace, and standard is used with foreigners. It is a possibility.

Cherry tree at Kodaiji
The week before this past week, my Japanese professor came to Japan during fall break to visit, so her, another student from Beloit, and me went to Kyoto and visited Kodaiji Temple and Sanjusangendo. Kodaiji is heavily attributed with Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s wife. And, Sanjusangendo is famous for the 1001 Buddha statues that fill it. This temple was quite a site to take in. It will be hard to display the temple as no pictures were allowed in the temple, but pictures could not do justice to the grandeur of the temple. This week was midterm testing, and I spent all week studying for all of my tests. I am currently ready for a day off, but that is not going to happen. Saturday is the Nukiho Matsuri (or Rice Harvest Festival) at Fushimi Inari Taisha so I will be there experiencing this festival. So, until next time, sayonara.
Statues at Sanjusangendo (stock image)


glassgourd said...

I’ve gotten the impression that Kansai-ben is often looked down upon in more professional settings, especially outside of the Kansai area. I heard that one time a professor here told a student off for using Kansai-ben during a college presentation (even though the subject of the presentation arguably made the use of the dialect appropriate). Another person from Kansai (I forget the specific place) I talked with said that people sometimes see her as being too aggressive if she starts speaking in the dialect instead of more standard Japanese. Dialects definitely have a lot of associations attached to them.

In Search of Modern Japan: Writing Capital Cities (Moderator) said...

Have you found anything in particular to suggest the use of Kansai-ben as a code? I know it's happened in other parts of the world (Cockney comes to mind). (From Dylan)

Christopher Aaron Koerner said...

@glassgourd Kansai-ben in my observation is often used as in casual speech instead of professional speech. Some of the words and phrases only seem to be in casual form, so it is not to surprising that Kansai-ben is looked down upon in professional situations. Of course my knowledge of Kansai-ben is very miniscule, so if there is a form of Kansai-ben that is used for non-casual speech, I do not know about it.

@Dylan The only code that I can figure out, is that it is used mostly for casual speech. My RAs here use Kansai-ben all the time. For an example, one time one of my RAs was running late and when she arrived at the Seminar House she was yelling "mecha gomen, mecha gomen!" Which means something under the lines of "I'm very sorry, very sorry." So, the RAs are comfortable using some Kansai-ben around us students.

Dylan Hackler said...

Ah, I see. I recently encountered a case here of two students (jokingly) using their knowledge of similar Tohoku-ben to talk to each other without anyone else being about to understand what they were saying (everyone else has a remarkably hard time with Tohoku-ben, apparently). In other places local dialects have been used as a sort of "local's code", was wondering if you've seen that in Osaka.